When Will the End Come?
We have a role to play in seeing the Kingdom fully come:
This piece on the Second Coming of Christ is a sort of follow-on from two previous articles. A few months ago I wrote about the notion of hastening the Lord’s return. Are there things we can do that will either hinder or hasten his return? Some verses seem to suggest that we do have an impact on all this. As I said in my closing paragraph:
From all this we can say at least two things with some degree of certainty: One, the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human choices will always be all rather mysterious. But Two, less mysterious is the truth that our way of living is somehow connected to the Lord’s return. That should surely spur us on to a life of godliness and holiness. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/02/06/on-hastening-his-return/
And just yesterday I penned a piece featuring a number of great quotes from the new book by John Piper: Come Lord Jesus. The last quote of his that I featured included a brief quote from a noted New Testament scholar. The quote was this:
“If we love the Lord’s appearing, we will love the advance of his mission toward completion. We will take heart from his promise that the gospel will be preached to all nations, that is, all the people groups (‘tribe, language, people, nation’), and we will embrace his command to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matt. 28:19). We will seek to share the urgency and clarity of Ladd’s exhortation: ‘So long as Christ does not return, our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission’.”
Piper is referring to George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982), and his important 1959 volume, The Gospel of the Kingdom. He inspired me to go and grab my copy, although sadly it took me around 40 minutes to finally discover where I had it shelved! But it was worth the lengthy hunt.
The last chapter of Ladd’s book where this quote comes from is a gem indeed, and is well-worth drawing to your attention. I will quote from that chapter in a moment, but let me offer two earlier quotes of his where he offers us some definitions. He reminds us that the Kingdom of God is both present and future, and says this:
The Kingdom is a present reality (Matt. 12: 28), and yet it is a future blessing (I Cor. 15: 50). It is an inner spiritual redemptive blessing (Rom. 14: 17) which can be experienced only by way of the new birth (John 3: 3), and yet it will have to do with the government of the nations of the world (Rev. 11: 15). The Kingdom is a realm into which men enter now (Matt. 21: 31), and yet it is a realm into which they will enter tomorrow (Matt. 8: 11). It is at the same time a gift of God which will be bestowed by God in the future (Luke 12: 32) and yet which must be received in the present (Mark 10: 15). Obviously no simple explanation can do justice to such a rich but diverse variety of teaching. p. 18
The Kingdom of God is, then, the realization of God’s will and the enjoyment of the accompanying blessings. However, it is a clear teaching of the New Testament that God’s will is not to be perfectly realized in this age. Central in Biblical Theology is the doctrine of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. . . . The Bible conceives of the entire sweep of human history as resting in the hand of God, but it looks for the final realization of God’s Kingdom in a realm “beyond history,” i,e., in a new and different order of existence. p. 24
His ninth and final chapter is titled, “When Will the Kingdom Come?” Here we find so much optimism and encouraging words (and for those who might be wondering, he is not a postmillenialist, but a non-dispensational premillenialist). Let me offer some quotes from it.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is the announcement of what God has done and will do. It is His victory over His enemies. It is the Good News that Christ is coming again to destroy for ever His enemies. It is a gospel of hope. It is also the Good News of what God has already done. He has already broken the power of death, defeated Satan, and overthrown the rule of sin. The Gospel is one of promise but also of experience, and the promise is grounded in experience. What Christ has done guarantees what He will do. This is the Gospel which we must take into all the world. p. 130
Ladd reminds us that the ultimate meaning between the advents is sharing the Gospel worldwide. This is how God’s redemptive purpose is carried forward. “This is a staggering fact. God has entrusted to people like us, redeemed sinners, the responsibility of carrying out the divine purpose in history.” p. 134
And based on the word of Jesus in Matthew 24:14 (“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”), we have in one sense the divine timeline: “When the Church has finished its task of evangelizing the world, Christ will come again.” p. 135
But some will say that this is an impossible task, with so many closed doors. Ladd replies:
Such an attitude fails to reckon with God. It is true that many doors are closed at the moment; but God is able to open closed doors overnight, and God is able to work behind closed doors. Remember Abyssinia! My concern is not with closed doors; my concern is with the doors that are open which we do not enter. If God’s people were really faithful and were doing everything possible to finish the task, God would see to it that the doors were opened. Our responsibility is the many doors standing wide open which we are not entering. We are a disobedient people. We argue about the definition of world-wide evangelization and we debate the details of eschatology, while we neglect the command of the Word of God to evangelize the world. p. 136
I conclude with his final paragraphs:
This must be the spirit of our mission in This evil Age. We are not rosy optimists, expecting the Gospel to conquer the world and establish the Kingdom of God. Neither are we despairing pessimists who feel that our task is hopeless in the face of the evil of This Age. We are realists, Biblical realists, who recognize the terrible power of evil and yet who go forth in a mission of worldwide evangelization to win victories for God’s Kingdom until Christ returns in glory to accomplish the last and greatest victory…
Do you love the Lord’s appearing? Then you will bend every effort to take the Gospel into all the world. It troubles me in the light of the clear teaching of God’s Word, in the light of our Lord’s explicit definition of our task in the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20) that we take it so lightly. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is the Good News of the Kingdom. Christ has wrested authority from Satan. The Kingdom of God has attacked the kingdom of Satan; This evil Age has been assaulted by The Age to Come in the person of Christ. All authority is now His. He will not display this authority in its final glorious victory until He comes again; but the authority is now His. Satan is defeated and bound; death is conquered; sin is broken. All authority is His. “Go ye therefore.” Wherefore? Because all authority, all power is His, and because He is waiting until we have finished our task. His is the Kingdom; He reigns in heaven, and He manifests His reign on earth in and through His Church. When we have accomplished our mission, He will return and establish His Kingdom in glory. To us it is given not only to wait for but also to hasten the coming of the day of God (II Pet. 3: 12). This is the mission of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and this is our mission. pp. 139-140
Stirring words indeed. This brief volume is not a dry academic exercise, but a collection of wise biblical and theological insights combined with passion to see God’s people fulfil the Great Commission.
13 Replies to “When Will the End Come?”
1. “We are not rosy optimists, expecting the Gospel to conquer the world and establish the Kingdom of God. Neither are we despairing pessimists who feel that our task is hopeless in the face of the evil of This Age. We are realists, Biblical realists.”
Post-millennialism adopts the first, “rosy optimist” view, which has the effect of downplaying “the blessed hope”, and even explaining away many (not all) of the classic texts on the second coming in a rather far-fetched way (e.g. in Loraine Boettner’s book, “The Millennium”), and in my view borders on heresy. Pre-millennialism has the effect of making the seconded coming a mere ‘step along the way’ to the new heavens and earth. The historic faith of the church is really a-millennialism, since while the pre-mill position was held ass a private opinion in the ancient church—to what extent is disputed, but it has never found its way into any official creed, ancient, Reformation, or modern. It is no part of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Only certain “fundie” groups in modern times have made it an article of faith in their churches, but in the modern context that is usually tied up with Dispensationalism, another relative newcomer.
2. Your quotations mention the Great Commission—rightly so, and our duty to fulfil the unfinished task. However, the Commission has three elements: (i) make disciples; (ii) baptize them; (iii) teach them. Interdenominational evangelism over the years has been good at the first and third, but the second has, sadly, been relegated to the background, because it is regarded as “too controversial”. Participating churches, e.g. in Billy Graham gatherings, have taken on the task of baptism and teaching, but even there the contradictory positions impose: many of the converts who want baptism are refused because they were baptized in infancy. This to me is very sad. Yet on the mission field the differences on the issue seem to recede, and by common consent converts are immersed on profession of faith. I believe Christian leaders especially, now that historic denominations are dying (that is my observation), need to explore the issue thoroughly and without prejudice, so that the Great Commission can be fully carried out.
Thanks for that Murray.
Murray raises an issue which many Christian argue about and I would like some clarification on this. The way I understand Biblical eschatology is that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be a thousand years before the final judgement – Revelations 20, -when He and those already saved from every nation – pre the millennium – will reign on Earth.
Mathew 24 38, says,
” For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left”.
Does this not suggest that Christians will be removed – raptured- leaving the unsaved to go through the seven years of tribulation, at the end of which Christ returns with the remnant to then reign for a thousand years on Earth before the New Heaven and Earth are created?
A good article.
G. E. Ladd sure set people probing afresh the rich biblical insights into the Kingdom of God.
His words continue to inspire.
Bill’s site is not the forum for debate over eschatology—he has made that clear many times. All I was doing is stating the different views on the millennium, which arose out of one of the quotations above, and stating the difficulty I have with pre- and post- millennialism as regards “the blessed hope”.
As to the rapture, all I wish to say here is that I reject the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture, but affirm the second coming as a glorious, audible, visible, and climactic event which will usher in the final judgment, but I am willing to debate this with you on another forum—not here. I give Bill my authority to give you my email so that I can discuss this further to and fro on a personal level.
I would state Murray that for premillennialists like myself the second coming IS a major event. Yes the new heavens and new earth are considered greater because it is the final stage, God remaking creation to be perfect again completely purged of sin and it’s effects, the second coming is the PIVOTAL event the culmination of everything. We don’t see it as a sign post or billboard along the road to the new heavens and new earth. It is the culmination of history its destination. It has been said in the past “all road lead to Rome” well one could say all roads of history lead to the second coming. It’s the big city we’re all looking towards yet that city has a road that lead OUT that head to the new heavens and new earth. We see the city but we also recognize there is just a little bit more beyond it too and the next destination far greater for it is Eternal. Like going from Rome to say Ancient China. Rome had its beauty and greatness but Ancient China far surpassed it. For us the end times has the great events of the second coming and the Millennial Kingdom and the afterwards the new heavens and new earth. We don’t down play the second coming we simply add the expectation of the new heavens and new earth to what we look forward to and help others look forward to.
Thanks guys. I had penned a few replies to some of the comments here, but to save on repetition and perhaps for the benefit of others, I have turned that into an article. So feel free to keep commenting, but please have a look here at what I wished to say thanks:
And those who do read that article we see that I never had a blanket ban, nor said eschatology debates are verboten here. What I have said often was how I wish to see various debates proceed on my site – big difference. So please do read that new piece of mine thanks.
I agree, that we should never be afraid to ask questions for fear of being regarded as a heretic. However, and I know this will sound arrogant, the most important thing is what does the Bible literally say . For for instance what is Revelation chapter 20 all about? or Mathew 24: 40? What happens to those left behind? If the rapture is true, it becomes as incumbent on those who believe it will happen to tell others they need to get ready for the second coming as it would be for passengers who were preparing to quit a sinking ship to tell others to also prepare themselves.
I suppose Noah in a sense was raptured and then returned to begin a new phase in God’s time line.
As for Roman Catholics, I have recently joined forces with them over the issue of buffer zones being placed around abortion clinics. They are wonderful and dedicated Christians but do not seem to either read or know their Bible.
I would love to communicate with Murray. I think we go back a long way together on Bill’s site
David Skinner UK
Thanks David. As I say, folks are welcome to discuss these matters if they are so inclined. As to the rapture theory, your point cuts both ways of course. IF it turns out to NOT be true, then it can cause enormous harm to all those depending on it. But as mentioned, with zillions of articles, books, and websites battling all this out, folks are welcome to keep at it, but I am not as interested (probably in part because as a new Christian, that was all I ever talked about, and if anyone dared to hold a view different than mine, I pulled away the right hand of fellowship real quick, etc.!). But all this I have discussed before, eg: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/11/29/god-culture-wars-and-persecution/
I think the rapture is an either you believe it or you don’t. As far as harm it depends on how those who believe in it approach it: if the see it as an escape to be waited for they will probably do nothing in the meantime (or they will fill fill that time arguing with people over secondary issues) OR if they see it as an escape but not an excuse to lounge about they will continue working fighting the fight against satan and his people on earth and trying to save people. It all depends on one’s response to the idea of the rapture. Personally I’m in the latter camp. I look forward to the rapture but see no reason to leave the battlefield (as limited as I am I’m still on the battlefield) because there is STILL a job to do till we hear come up hither so as any good soldier I do my job until my commander calls me away. Too many date setters, lazy bones and “if you don’t believe in the rapture you’re going to hell” Christians have made believing in the rapture a difficult thing sometimes a bad thing.
I don’t go to forums to discuss issues I really would like to discuss because I always seem to end up in groups with cliquey Christians, the Stepford bride of Christ as one woman I saw put it, who all demand you agree 100% with them. The Millennial Kingdom (details – day to day life, nations, cities, towns, industries travel, etc), the New Jerusalem (details – houses, jobs, schools, layout, children, sleeping, dreaming, animals, transportation, etc), Heaven, our resurrected bodies (abilities and limitations), children in Heaven (yes or no what age and do they grow to adulthood or stay children forever), age in Heaven ([adults] all the same, a range of ages, if a range is there something that determines where you fall on that range,) all of these are things I would love to discuss in detail with people (obviously not here Bill would never be able to post anything else) but because the is very little said in the Bible about the topics they are opinion driven what on thinks based on what little the Bible has said about them. Too many of these groups have their ideas and have no desire to entertain any others and are certain their ideas are the truth and any thing else is a lie. The WORST ones are pastors, children of pastors, and former missionaries because they are so certain the because they are one of the above they KNOW the truth and thus they won’t discuss anything. What’s worse is way too many accept what they say without proof so that when they come across someone who actually asks for proof they get mad at you. “I thought you wanted to learn. I thought you were a believer.” And then they pull out the big gun of their years (usually decades) of study and years (again usually decades) of being in the ministry.
Secondary issues are secondary. They are often quite interesting can have different approaches and thoughts but in the end they are secondary.
Thanks for that Paul.
We definitely are in the end times especially with what’s going on with China. We don’t have long to go and Jesus is coming back very soon.